Ben Smith says yes. One’s answer to this question depends entirely on partisan affiliation, right?
You can see why Schultz is tempted by an independent run. His politics don’t particularly fit either party: He favors LGBT rights and social rights, but he also wants to cut entitlements, keep taxes low, and considers deficits the “greatest threat” to America.
That’s mainstream Republicanism, circa 2010. And guess what! This is the traditional kick-off of the Republican primary season. There are a couple of Trump challengers circling, but none with Schultz’s resources and access to the media. If he joined the primary, he could at least spend the next several months engaged with the central story of America, not looking like a rich guy on an ego trip. He could make a few Republicans like him, earn the respect of Americans who dislike Donald Trump, and — who knows — wind up on a Democratic ticket or make a more plausible case for an independent run.
I don’t see why Schultz primarying Trump as a fake Republican after having spent his life as a Democrat would make him any less of a “rich guy on an ego trip” than running as an independent would. That reeks of leftist talking points about his candidacy. (F***ing billionaires.) Especially since his independent run seems driven by disagreements with his own party. It’s not Trump who most worries him, it’s Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He doesn’t like the leftward drift among Democrats and wants to offer an alternative model. He can do that as a Democratic primary candidate or he can do it as an independent. Asking him to do it as a Republican, at Trump’s expense, is nonsensical except as a partisan “play for our team” plea.
It’d be interesting in one sense. Schultz would be justifiably clobbered in a GOP primary for being pro-choice, a position even more toxic on the right at the moment than it normally is thanks to the horrors in Virginia and New York. If there’s any shining lesson from the 2016 primaries, though, it’s that Republican voters are less orthodox than you might think about policy preferences that are supposedly dictated by Republican orthodoxy. How many would tolerate Schultz’s position?
Needless to say, he wouldn’t tout the fact that he’s pro-choice on the trail but would downplay it whenever possible. “I’m personally opposed to abortion, plus the president has little say over abortion policy anyway,” etc. I’d be curious to see how many Republican voters would back a pro-choice candidate so long as he’s not aggressive in defending his view. In fact, I wonder if being pro-choice might even appeal to some pro-life centrist Republicans in the following sense: If you’re anti-Trump and grasping for some sort of alternative model of Republicanism, you might be willing to cast a vote for a pro-choicer purely as a symbolic breaking of the party mold. If Schultz pulled, say, 20-25 percent of GOP primary voters despite Trump flogging him every day for backing legal abortion, that’d be the second powerful reminder in four years that Republican voters are less prone to ideological litmus tests than the party’s “influencers” are.
But you don’t need Schultz for that. Larry Hogan’s pro-choice too and he actually is a Republican. And he might run! If you believe Smith, so might … Mark Cuban, who’s allegedly been telling friends that he still considers himself a Republican and hasn’t ruled out a challenge to the president. Imagine that primary: One’s a brash media-friendly billionaire turned game-show host, the other’s Donald Trump. Is Cuban pro-choice? He’s been cagey at times, but read this and draw your own conclusion.
Look at it this way. If Trump’s destined to be primaried, which I’m not sold on but which many of my pundit betters insist is a sure thing for someone with a job approval in the lower 40s, who would you rather do it: Schultz? Hogan? Cuban? Or [shudder] John Kasich? Before you answer, consider this passage from Chris Christie’s new book about a phone call he got from Kasich after falling flat in New Hampshire:
He asked how I was doing. I told him, okay, considering. “You know what happened to you, don’t you, Chris?” he said.
I told him I didn’t.
“God wanted you to play right field, and you insisted on playing shortstop. No matter how many times God told you to play right field, you insisted on playing shortstop. And last night, you went out to shortstop, and the ball went through your legs.”
Right there, I understood why so many people in politics despised John Kasich. . . .
“And John,” I asked, “what does God have in mind for you?”
He didn’t hesitate. “I think you’re going to see that very clearly over the next couple of months.”
If Christie invented that story then he’s a literary genius because it’s exactly how I imagined Kasich is privately. Although if you’re a Trumper, it’s also probably why you prefer him as Trump’s primary opponent. Schultz, Hogan, and Cuban all stand a chance of charming voters, not enough to win but maybe enough to embarrass POTUS on primary day. Kasich, though? C’mon.